Need a winter weekend getaway? Aspen is peak ski resort luxury
Barely 10 miles from the Continental Divide and a spectacular 8,000 feet above sea level, my travel pal Maureen and I drove north along the Roaring Fork River, stunned by the breathtaking scenery as we passed trails of evergreens and spied numerous snow-dusted peaks. The best of the Rocky Mountains’ Sawatch and Elk ranges can be enjoyed on this ride to Aspen, Colorado, a former silver mine camp and mountainous town better known today as a ski resort destination. Its namesake hails from the distinctive, golden-leafed Aspen trees that blanket millions of acres in these high elevations.
Aspen’s posh, you-have-arrived resort vibe is evident the minute you pull into town. It’s no wonder the place lures the well-heeled and often famous. This is clearly a town for all seasons, but not for all pocketbooks. The downtown shops are lined with storefronts that include Gucci, Prada, Dior and Ralph Lauren, but also available is regionally produced western wear for those who prefer high-end cowboy boots and animal hides.
We allotted an entire afternoon to take in the sights of beautiful Aspen, although one could easily spend several more. It wasn’t quite ski season, so we headed to the famed Maroon Bells mountain peaks, the most photographed in the country. Unfortunately, social distancing measures and mandatory pre-ordered tickets thwarted our efforts to stop in for a peek. Instead, we stopped to view the John Denver Sanctuary, a sweet tribute to the Aspen native and dearly beloved activist/crooner who perished in an aircraft crash over 20 years ago. The area boasts a large wildflower garden, wetlands, trails, streams and rocks with classic John Denver lyrics etched on them. It’s a lovely space for meditation.
The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling the downtown shopping scene. These walkable few blocks are nestled at the bottom of the ski mountains; one can watch the slope-side action from any viewpoint, and you can stop for sustenance at countless outdoor restaurants thoughtfully heated by propane heat lamps.
The French Alpine Bistro looked especially promising, with cozy shearling coverings on its outside chairs. Perusing the wine and beer list, we took a pass on the $1,300 bottle of Cristal and opted for a local microbrew. We split the signature Umami Bistro Burger, which was crowned with Alpine cheese and black truffle aioli but seemed somewhat meager in size, given its $32 price tag.
Our digs for these few days were at The Limelight, a spacious and welcoming hotel a few minutes’ walk from the center of town and near the Aspen Art Museum. It’s pet-friendly, has a roster of activities and amenities, and its expansive lobby is ideal for social distancing. Its sister property is in Ketchum, Idaho, but this location has a colorful history that began as a hangout for Wild West outlaws and ski buffs when it was known as the Ski and Spur Bar. It was purchased by folk singer Glenn Yarborough in 1950 and celebrity singers Judy Collins and The Smothers Brothers performed in its nightclub for the next dozen years. It was then sold to a family who lovingly grew and improved it over 50 years until it became part of a corporate family in the 21st century.
We settled ourselves on sofas set before a roaring fireplace and ordered cocktails and superb truffle fries that came with a mysteriously addictive dipping sauce. When asked, “What’s in this magic elixir?” our server handily provided the recipe: simply garlic, chopped parsley, EVOO, salt and pepper.
Next, over a bottle of excellent Rhone wine, I delved into The Limelight’s unique version of chicken piccata with house-made pasta ribbons tossed with bite-sized chunks of chicken and delicately torn sheets of prosciutto — all under an avalanche of Parmesan cheese. There was a chill in the air, so a fresh baked cookie served in a miniature cast iron pan seemed an ideal dessert.
Chilly winds during our last evening in Aspen brought us right back to The Limelight Lounge, where we gravitated to its blazing outdoor firepit. Aaah, much better. After another local microbrew — did you know Colorado has 500 breweries, five of which are in Aspen? — we craved some food, and the Rosemary Margarita Pizza fresh out of the stone oven in the Limelight hit the proverbial spot.
When we departed the next morning, I felt some regret that I hadn’t visited all that I’d hoped to — especially those Maroon Bells. But I look forward to retracing this route through the magnificent Rockies another time.